Georgia is one of only three states in the country that do not allow sales of alcohol on Sunday. If the Christian Coalition and other social conservatives get their way, that’s how things are gonna stay.
In one sense, it’s not a major issue. At least not to most of us. Sure, it would be more convenient to be able to pick up a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine at the grocery store on Sunday, rather than having to plan ahead. And yes, it’s pretty strange to see the beer aisle at my local Publix darkened one day a week just to satisfy a state law that serves no real purpose. However, with teachers being furloughed and thousands of Georgians in danger of losing health insurance, legislators do have more important things to worry about than ending a minor inconvenience.
On the other hand, the issue seems to matter a good deal to the Christian Coalition and its social conservative allies. They see preserving the law as a way to demonstrate their continued influence at the General Assembly. Yes, it’s merely symbolic, but in politics as well as religion, symbolism is important.
At the moment, legislation to allow voters at the local level to decide for themselves whether to allow Sunday sales is tied up in the state Senate. State Sen. Chip Rogers, the Senate majority leader, acknowledges that Senate Republicans won’t allow the bill to the floor for a vote unless a majority of the 34-member Republican caucus approves of it. (I’ve long wondered whether the GOP caucus operated under such a restriction; Rogers’ statement is the first public acknowledgment that I’ve seen of the practice.)
In effect, that rule gives 17 Republican senators — just 30 percent of the 56-member Senate — the power to block any legislation. And from what I can tell, a devilish alliance between social conservatives and politically powerful liquor-store owners who don’t want the expense of opening on Sunday has kept the bill from overcoming that obstacle.
(While the bill wouldn’t compel liquor-store owners to open Sunday, competitive pressures would force most of them to do so. In effect, store owners opposing the change want to keep government regulation intact because it helps to keep their costs low. They can sell seven days’ worth of product in just six days, and they want to keep it that way).
It’s all a pretty silly dustup over a pretty silly law. But in a way, the pure silliness of the law enhances its symbolic power. There’s no better reminder of who’s in charge than a law that is absolutely silly and that you have no choice but to obey anyway.
That’s exactly why some people are fighting hard to keep it.
It’s also the best reason I can think of to abolish it.
– Jay Bookman